Increasing population pressure in rural areas is reducing the amount of land available and, thus, results in the overuse of the land, lower crop yields and contributes to a cycle of poverty and violence. Jude has created a way to reverse this cycle by using the age grade system (an inherent social structure within many communities in this region) to mobilize communities to take greater responsibility for land use and for the acquisition of inputs they need for agricultural production.
The New Idea
Rapid population growth, decades of poor farming practices and the overuse of land has resulted in the depletion of soil nutrients and soil erosion. Consequentially, farmers in the Eastern parts of Nigeria are suffering from delayed crop yields and shrinking productivity. These farmers require fertilizers and higher yielding seedlings on an ever increasing basis in order to improve yield, stay in business and ward off hunger which is beginning to advance upon the populations in that region. However, the only source of these fertilizers and other farming inputs is government and but government officials have set up interminable bottlenecks in the supply chain in order to exploit the desperate farmers on an ongoing basis, leading to widespread frustration among the farming communities and consumers alike.
Jude has addressed this by setting up a better, more aggressive distribution system involving the farmers themselves, a system that they would own and trust and one that would eliminate the leakages and inefficiencies that characterize the government distribution model. He found this solution in the age grade system. This is a social phenomenon that exists all across Nigeria in one form or the other but is particularly strong in the South Eastern Region. The age grades are effective, highly respected peer-driven natural groups that exist and operate in communities and have proven to be a potent system for the successful delivery of community development projects. Jude has mobilized these groups to take on the government fertilizer rackets, with a view to replacing them with effective citizen-driven distribution systems across the region and thus prevent the slide towards poverty, malnourishment, and conflict among the citizens.
Over time, there has come to be a noticeable decrease in agricultural production as well as a sharp increase in population, resulting in food scarcity. Systemic corruption in the fertilizer production and distribution chains as well as in the seedling and herbicides distribution chains and farmers’ depletion of land by persistent bush burning have served to make the situation that more serious. In addition to this, the Government agricultural extension officers who prefer to sit in their offices rather than visit and attend to the farmers and the high volume of crops that perish in the field because there is no effective distribution system after harvest. These officers serve as custodians of the agricultural inputs (chemical fertilizers and seeds) that the government purchases in order to distribute to small farmers. However, instead of being equitably distributed, these often enter the black market and the officers profit from the sales. Again, since most of the farmers relay on small family operations, there is often no effective aggregate demand for inputs, and so they are ignored in favor of the larger farming concerns. These are the problems Jude is working towards eradicating with the age grade system.
Jude’s intervention is first to mobilize the age-grade system in the Southeast of Nigeria and eventually spread to other regions of the country. He mobilizes them by offering them easy access to seeds that they desperately need, in this case, a special Vitamin ‘A’-enriched cassava stem which he receives under a Cassava stem multiplication project funded by the Bill and Melinda gates Foundation. He personally operates a 30 Hectare cassava farm secured for him by the local age-grade system to which he belongs, and paid for by the Bill and Melinda gates Foundation. Beyond the Southeast, the idea will be spread to the Southwest using their natural self-help groups called “Egbe” in the Yoruba language and to the North and Middle Belt of Nigeria using their natural self-help groups called “Kungiyoyin taimakon kai da kai” in The Hausa Language. This idea can be spread to any community that has self-help groups.
He has created an ICT demo resource tool to aid in the training of the various age-grade systems as groups which in turn will train the farmers. He is also creating capacity within the age-grade system groups to activate increasing demand for change.
Having secured critical partnerships with some micro-finance banks which are ready to finance the farmers through the trusted age-grade system, Jude gets the age grades to act as guarantor for the farmers, to collect money from microfinance banks and he then engages and motivates the agricultural extension workers to realize that they are very critical to meaningful improvements in farming practice and that the consistent transfer of their enhanced and updated knowledge and skills to the farmers is key to any sustainable improvement in food production in the communities. To achieve this, Jude links them to the age grade leaderships and facilitates regular sessions where they transfer their knowledge and skills to the farmers. The age grades and similar self-help groups are being encouraged to be the major agents of grassroots mobilization of the entire society to engage the fertilizer subsidy program of government effectively, to ensure that the subsidy does get to the farmers in order to have its desired impact in the agriculture value chain. The media is also being engaged strategically to facilitate greater reach and wider mobilization.
He is the first in a family of six and his parents being both teachers had laid much emphasis on the necessity of a good education. His Grandmother was a farmer and he always went to the farm with her whenever he was on school holidays and thus his interest in agriculture was sparked at an early age. He however went on to the university to study medicine and as a student he was not satisfied with the state of the school environment, so he pushed for a greater involvement of students with the sanitation of the school Using the student union government as a platform. While at school he displayed strong leadership qualities and naturally rose to become the president of Nigerian Medical Students Association. His tenure was marked with the revival of the medical students’ international internship exchange program and during this time he interfaced effectively with civil society.
In his latter years as a medical student, he did a lot of work around health, HIV, poverty and malnutrition and in the process, recognized that food security is a viable strategy for the reduction of malnutrition and poverty. One day in 1999 while on a ward round, his professor asked his opinion on a young patient who was suffering from protein malnutrition and his answer was, “This is a violation of his human rights…the right to nutritious food in sufficient quantities.” His professor shouted him down, not understanding that if that child had been well fed, he would not need to be hospitalized in the first place. Right then, Jude realized that the medical platform was not the right one for him to work from and so began his lifelong adventure into the world of agriculture and food security.